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Home, Sweet Home

The peak performances by Colorado artists in 1997.

Munly de Dar He
Munly de Dar He
(Top Notch)

The previous offering by singer-songwriter Jayson Munly Thompson, who recently moved from Colorado to Austin, was a solo disc, the wonderfully odd Blurry. This time around, he's part of a full-sized band that adds heft to his tunes without muting his idiosyncracies. The music has a roots feel that occasionally recalls 16 Horsepower; it's simple yet varied, tuneful yet moody. But Munly's unhinged vocals and lyrics epitomized by song titles such as "Seven Warts on Pa's Belly" give it personality. Weird never sounded so good.

Tim O'Brien
When No One's Around
(Sugar Hill)

Right now O'Brien is in the limelight because he landed a composition, "When There's No One Around," on the Garth Brooks blockbuster Sevens. But the strength of his latest for Sugar Hill serves as a reminder that he's more than a tunesmith. A cast that includes Jerry Douglas and Hal Ketchum supports O'Brien throughout numbers that brim with feeling and authenticity. And sorry, Garth, but his version of "When There's No One Around" beats the hell out of yours.

The Russian Dragon Band
When Kentucky Was Indiana
(Synergy)

Art Lande has been one of the Denver jazz scene's treasures for years, and the Russian Dragon Band, in which he collaborates with Dwight Kilian, Khabu Doug Young and Bruce Williamson, is bound to further enhance his reputation. The quartet fuses various elements into a package that's accessible without being the slightest bit predictable.

The Shakes
The Shakes
(Shattered)

What The Shakes lacks in production value it more than makes up for in sheer catchiness. The act specializes in pop music sans the bombast, delivered with a warmth that's beyond most of today's Oasis clones. Because the presentation is so modest, some listeners may overlook the album's charms. But pay closer attention and you'll discover that there's a lot of merit in these grooves.

Nina Storey
Shades
(Red Lady Music)

On Shades, the big-voiced Storey visits Joan Osborne territory again, but she does so in such a showy, entertainingly brazen way that she gets away with it. She handles slow tempos competently, but it's her sassiness that's most appealing: She rips through burners like "Let Us Walk" and "Coffee and Margaritas" like a woman possessed. Storey has an extremely commercial kind of talent that may well take her beyond her current state in the near future.

Otis Taylor
When Negroes Walked the Earth
(Shoelace Music)

It's a shame that Taylor hasn't recorded more often since his days with Zephyr, because he has a lot of excellent music in him. On Earth, he writes intelligent blues songs filled with historical references that lend them gravity. Better yet, he and his first-rate accompanists (bassist Kenny Passarelli and guitarist Eddie Turner) render the compositions in a manner that embraces mystery, an element all too often neglected by today's blues ambassadors. Deep, generous, moving.

Various Artists
Melt
(Club)

An electronica sampler of uncommon merit, Melt features Colorado artists whose work is just as worthy as that of their peers in the capitals of dance culture. Sundog, Technicolour, Apparatus, Aquatherium and the rest provide a varied slate, dabbling in music that touches on ambient, house and other approaches that are more difficult to categorize. Melt is more than an introduction to the area underground; it's a consistently intriguing listen.

Various Artists
Superstars of the Cricket on the Hill
(Sixpence/Hip-O Records)

A documentary on disc, Superstars provides a platform for more than twenty Denver acts even as it re-creates the ambience of the venue celebrated in its moniker. Venerable types such as the Rock Advocates and Baggs Patrick shake, rattle and roll alongside Thee Lovely Lads, Backspackle and other new-blood donors. Fun for the whole family.

Wendy Woo
Angels in the Crowd
(Skytrail)

Woo is a quadruple threat: She sings, plays, writes and produces with skill and taste. Her songs are earnest without being maudlin, her settings are rich but not obtrusive, and her vocals exude a sensuality that's unexpectedly subtle. There's an army of Lilith Fair sound-alikes in the marketplace right now, but Woo is talented enough to stand out from the Crowd.

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